One of the most pleasurable things about working at The Understanding Group is seeing how many of the projects we work on get successfully developed and deployed. As a long-time veteran of web and software development, I was amazed by this when I first started working here, particularly since we don’t provide any direct development or design support. In many ways the last three years has been an attempt on my part to uncover the reasons why Information Architecture has such a positive impact on projects.
The North Star of Digital Projects
At its core the reason turns out to be pretty simple: Information Architecture creates a user-centered map of a product that can be referenced throughout a project. The Information Architect provides a clear map for a project, then creates resiliency over the course of the project to sustain that vision when the going gets rough. All the challenges, details, problems, and friction can be related back to the original mission and goal, as described by clear blueprints that have organizational alignment, a strong product focus, and the end user in mind. The reason IA can succeed in this way is because the outcome of the IA process provides:
- A common blueprint for understanding a product’s structure.
- A user-based focus that is defensible and clear.
- Alignment in your organization that solidifies project support.
The Project Blueprint
What would it be like to be able to point at a picture on a wall and say “this is what we are doing,” at the beginning, middle, and end of a project, and have everyone on your team agree with you?
Here’s a quick thought experiment: If someone came into the project as a new employee or developer, what would you give them to help them understand what it was that everyone was trying to make? How much explanation or qualification would you have to use, or explanation that the document is really “for” something else?
With Information Architecture this isn’t a problem. IA creates a structure completely in the service of the thing you are making and the people you’re making it for. More importantly, the blueprints can be used to understand the key point of a project at its beginning, middle, and end.
The User-based Narrative
Information Architecture is all about the structure of a product and how it will engage the user. We support this with a strong emphasis on personas, user journeys, and user-focused taxonomies that put the focus of the effort squarely on the user and the places created for them.
In the American Concrete Institute project, the core project blueprint was a combined map of personas and the proposed sitemap. In its full size, it was seven feet across and four feet high, and it remained on the product manager’s wall for the entire year-long project. Planning and status meetings were often held in front of the blueprint to confirm that particular activities were in alignment with the original intent.
Organizational Alignment and Support
This is one of the secret powers of Information Architecture. The emphasis on discovering a common language and structure means that we are very effective in creating common alignment across organizations and uncovering hidden or implicit assumptions that can either supercharge a project if properly leveraged, or torpedo that project if not addressed. One of the most powerful tools we use for this effort is intention modeling. The alignment of an organization can be critically important as a project progresses, particularly if it hits challenges or snags.
These benefits almost always occur with an existing team; in fact, TUG does not do any design, web development, or database development. Our entire purpose is to help your team be more successful by providing them with a direction and map for understanding the work, and we have helped a diverse range of teams, with a wide range of skills and capabilities, succeed. The fact that Information Architecture has such a profound impact on so many diverse environments means it provides true value for almost anyone needing to create a digital place for their users.